The Most Famous Spies Of All Time
Famous spies have been an incredibly popular draw for many years, especially for those who love to undertake a bit of espionage themselves. With their slick spy gadgets and mental capabilities beyond that of a regular person, they are often depicted as cool customers, with catchphrases and signature outfits to match. This guide runs down the top five spies of our era, both fictional and non-fictional.
- Mata Hari
An exotic dancer and performer who was killed in 1917 on suspicion of spying for the Germans throughout WWI, Mata Hari was classed as the ultimate femme fatale. She was a citizen of the Netherlands, who remained neutral throughout the war, and she could cross national borders without drawing too much attention to herself. He courted high-profile businessmen, diplomats, military officers and politicians in order to gain information for Germany. When she was arrested, she claimed to be spying for France, but the French government denied this and she was executed by firing squad.
Gadgets: none to speak of; 1917 was not the most technically advanced time, and Mata Hari used her feminine wiles and good looks in order to obtain information.
- Ethan Hunt
One of Tom Cruise’s most famous roles sees him suspended from ceilings and engaged in epic action sequences as part of Mission: Impossible. An unbeatable blend of cunning and machismo, Ethan Hunt uses his brains just as much as he uses his brawn in the films thrilling, and has some of the most unforgettable covert spy gadgets captured on screen.
Gadgets: everything from sticky hands to intelligent contact lenses.
- Austin Powers
The ‘International Man of Mystery’ starred in a series of spy spoofs, but that didn’t make his exploits any less impressive. From infiltrating a volcano to find Dr Evil’s lair, to marrying Liz Hurley (who turned out to be an evil robot), Austin Powers will go down as one of history’s enduring spies, most likely more for his fashion sense and catchphrases than for his actual spying prowess.
Gadgets: according to his father, played by Michael Caine, Austin had a ‘helicopter you could fit in a knapsack’ and a toothpaste / toothbrush bomb detonation unit.
2. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
This married couple met in 1936 at a gathering of the Young Communist League in America. They were eventually executed for passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. Sergeant David Greenglass confessed to passing confidential and sensitive information to the USSR, implicating both his brother-in-law Julius Rosenberg, and Julius’ wife Ethel. Ethel would type up the nuclear secrets on Greenglass’ command, and Julius was found in possession of a detailed sketch of a nuclear bomb. They were executed in 1951 for their crimes.
Gadgets: an old type-writer and a lot of cunning.
- James Bond
The ultimate spy, Bond in his various different guises has been a part of some of the most memorable cinema moments of the past fifty years. His epic car chases, his luck with the ladies, his sharp suits and his relationship with MI5, the organisation he works for, have all made for some of the most exciting spy films ever made. Skyfall was released this year to critical acclaim, with many stating that the ‘best Bond ever’ had breathed new life into one of the most successful franchises ever.
Gadgets: everything under the sun; spy cameras hidden in pens, airbag traps inside phone boxes, shoes with hidden blades and the epic jetpack from 1965’s Thunderball.
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